Christmas Eve Message, 2008
Many different faiths posit that we are created simply so that the divine can know itself, mirrors for god, if you like. Even in mainstream Christianity, this concept accepted; The Baltimore Catechism answers the question of why we were created with the statement “So that we could know God”. If our purpose really is to know god, and I am not saying it is or isn’t, just that it might be; it is logical to assume that we are uniquely wired for the task. We are designed to know God. Walking talking machines for Gnosis. We are built for it. Even more than higher and more powerful beings, we are built to know the divine. Though angels are more powerful and long lived than we are, it is we that are the god-knowers. This concept has a parallel in Buddhism as well: that though there are Devas and Asuras that are in higher realms, a human rebirth is the best for actually achieving Buddhahood.
Of course, the way that we go about knowing God tends to get complex. When studying the Old Testament one of the themes that stood out was how complex and demanding early Judaism was with its emphasis on ritual purity and timely sacrifices and so on. History takes an interesting turn though once
Instead of demanding absolute obedience that the people could not give, this new covenant will extend the grace necessary in a more simple way. In Jeremiah 31 we read: “ It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” .
Though we are built to know the divine, the divine decides to reach out to us and make the job easier. At the start of the new testament, he reaches out yet again. This time it is not through the agency of prophets, but through manifesting as a human child; a sign that a human birth has the potential within it for divinity. Or as Athanasius put it: “God became man, so that man could become God.”
In his Christmas Homily from two years ago Pope Benedict gives an interesting translation of Romans 9:28 “God made his word short, he abbreviated it”. I have never seen this translation anywhere else or his particular interpretation: but I like it. The Logos abbreviated. Divinity manifests as human, as a way of making the work of mankind becoming divine easier. He abbreviates the Logos, “the word made flesh”.
The manner in which he does so is telling. There is no descent from heaven. No chariots of flame. No trumpets. No palanquin. Not any real fanfare at all. Divinity chooses to manifest in the lowest and most awkward circumstances available: as a baby that has to sleep in a stable and rest in a manger. The only people that get a heads up about it are some Shepards. A few Persian magi figure it out for themselves. But otherwise it’s a very low-key thing. No need for anyone to be high born, or have special circumstances. The word is abbreviated.
So what is the secret of realizing the word? Love. When the Pharisees ask Christ what the greatest commandment is he answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”(MAT 22:37-40)
Simple right? Start now. Just Love the divine and the rest of mankind. Good. I am glad that’s settled…
Of course, its really not that easy. The kind of love that Christianity, Buddhism, and most other great spiritual paths demand is not something that can be summoned instantly, and even when summoned, is even more difficult to maintain. This is why modern evangelical Christianity more or less forgets about Love and focuses on blind belief in the power of the resurrection. But this is a cop-out. It’s not much different than just making sacrifices to keep God from getting pissed off at us. Do this, believe that, and god will wont punish you. Rather than a real path to love it becomes a game to keep yourself out of hell. This however is not real Christianity. The challenge of real Christianity is to find a way to achieve this love, but the only way to achieve it is to actually become divine ourselves.
The word is made flesh.
The Logos is abbreviated.
God became man, so that man could become God
I don’t really care if you are Christian or not. I don’t even care if Christ was a historical figure or just a more popular version of Mithras. It doesn’t matter a lick to me. The meaning is still the same. We are freed from the need to keep complex rules and dogma: but the stakes are raised. Instead of just not pissing off god, we are asked to become gods ourselves. Christmas is a quest.
Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve. While Christmas day is a glorious cacophony of guests and gifts, the silence of Christmas Eve is a wonderful time for reflection on the Divine and your relation to it. It is no mistake that Christmas happens near the solstice. Historical issues of stealing Pagan holidays aside: the word Solstice mean Sun Stillness (sol= sun ; stitium=stillness) and again points to the idea the divine taking a time out from its usual movement and holding still for a moment. Just long enough to grasp it. The Sun made still. The Son made manifest.
The real message of Christmas to me is that we are not as far from enlightenment as we think we are. We are not as far from being God as we imagine. The symbolism of the divine manifesting as the lowest and weakest among us, a baby in a manger, should say to us that no matter our own circumstance, we can become that which is most high. I hope that everyone, whether you jive with the symbolism of Christ or not, take a moment tomorrow night and open yourself to the stillness, silence, and peace that are offered on Christmas Eve.
May there be Peace On Earth and Goodwill towards Men.